In late January 2007, my mother began to have trouble keeping food down. At first we thought it was the flu. When it went on for months, the doctors diagnosed dysphagia. Her body was forgetting how to swallow.
The daily choking and vomiting took a toll on everyone. My mother became combative, eventually requiring Risperdal.
Journal entry for March 6, 2007
Last night Ginny went on a rampage in the dining room, trying to hit the caregivers and threatening to hurl her plate at anyone who came near her. She is scared and angry. She doesn't know what's happening and can't control it.
When we went to see the speech therapist, I had told the caregivers that I needed to pick her up at 9 am. I told three staff members the night before, and then called at 8 am to follow up. My cell rang at 8:40. "We can't get your mother out of bed," they said. "We've tried two different caregivers."
I was furious. I knew the appointment with the speech therapist would take at least an hour, plus an hour travel time back and forth. I had a counseling appointment at 1 pm, and I really needed it.
When I got to Ginny's room, she was still in bed with her eyes squeezed shut tight. I rubbed her legs and said, "Mom, please get up. You have a doctor's appointment this morning."
She snapped, "I don't need to see a goddamned doctor. I'm fine. Go away."
I pleaded. "C'mon, Mom. We need to see this doctor. Please get up, for me. I need you to work with me."
She snapped, "I hate you. I hate this family. I hate all of you. Go away."
I continued pleading. "Mom, you really need this appointment. We have to find out why you're having trouble eating. I can't reschedule it. C'mon, Mom, work with me."
"You're lying. I'm not having any trouble eating."
"OK, I agree, you're not having any trouble, but let's just get you checked out. Please do this for me."
She eventually got up but she swore at me the whole time she was sitting on the toilet, while she was brushing her teeth, while she got dressed, and while we walked down the hall.
Then she got in the car. I turned on the radio and she said, "Oh, what a lovely day! Where are we going?"
This photo and text appeared in the exhibition, "Two Belts," at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, January-March 2013.